Capital Thinking Blog

 
02.24.2014

Agriculture and Food

Regulatory Activity

Let’s Move!

As part of a series of events to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Let’s Move!, this week First Lady Michelle Obama will make two separate announcements at the White House  in addition to traveling to cities along the east coast to participate in scheduled events. On Tuesday, February 25, the First Lady will be joined by the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to make an announcement on school wellness and the progress being made in schools. On Thursday, February 27, the First Lady will make a second announcement on proposals to help parents and other consumers make healthier choices. There is speculation that the First Lady and possibly Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor will make an announcement about the FDA releasing its proposed rule on the Nutrition Facts Panel.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
02.10.2014

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Signed into Law

On Friday, President Obama signed the farm bill into law, which authorizes specific commodity, trade, energy, research, horticulture and organic, and nutrition programs until 2018. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Gary Peters (D-MI) attended the signing ceremony at Michigan State University, which it considers to be the “nation’s pioneer land-grant university.” The backdrop of Michigan State also allowed Sen. Stabenow to better position herself as a leader in farm policy, as many constituents in her state have criticized her for focusing more on Detroit than the rural communities.

In addition to Republicans, notably absent from the signing ceremony was Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) who some have speculated did not attend because he may be seeking reelection and is being conscious of how he is associated with the President. To those speculations, Rep. Peterson has responded that he could not attend the ceremony due to a scheduling conflict and the short notice given about the ceremony taking place outside of Washington, D.C. Rep. Peterson believes that the nation’s capital would have been the best place for the signing ceremony because it would have allowed all involved in the passage of the farm bill to attend.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
02.03.2014

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate will vote on and likely pass the farm bill conference report that the Congressional Budget Office scored at a little over $16 billion in cost savings. The scheduled Senate vote comes after the House passed the report by a vote of 251-61 last Wednesday.

In the House, a majority of Republicans (162 in total), voted in favor of the bill, with only 63 Republicans voting against the bill. A majority of Democrats, however, opposed the bill (103 in total), while 89 Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Many of the Democrats who opposed the bill pointed to the $8.6 billion cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as their justification for a “no” vote. The Senate’s version of the farm bill proposed cuts at $4 billion and the House’s version of the bill totaled $39 billion in cuts. In total, 14 House Republicans and Democrats did not vote.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
01.27.2014

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

This evening, we expect the farm bill conference committee to file its conference report. The committee will likely use most of today to reach a final agreement on issues related to country-of-origin labeling, language in the House’s farm bill that would prevent states from denying the sale of products produced in another state, and Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) livestock marketing rules. This sets the stage for House consideration of the farm bill later this week, which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) placed on the legislative schedule for Wednesday.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
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Karen Kudelko focuses her practice on foreign policy and agriculture, and counsels corporations, government entities, universities and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative, policy and regulatory matters.
01.13.2014

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

With the farm bill conference committee stalled because of strong disagreements over dairy provisions, last week the committee failed to release its draft bill and canceled its public meeting. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) continues to signal that he will not support a conferenced bill that includes a dairy program tying margin insurance to supply management. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Petersen (D-MN), however, continues to push for such language that milk producers in his district favor.

Even if the conference committee should resolve the dairy issue, there may be a possibility that the principals will not release a draft bill this week. Instead, the farm bill principals may release a draft bill the week of January 27. There is speculation that with the House and Senate scheduled to be in recess next week, the farm bill principals may hold releasing a draft agreement until a vote is scheduled towards the end of January. This tactic may help to avoid scrutiny of the bill, which would be counterproductive to whipping the requisite votes to pass a bill.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
01.06.2014

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

This week, we expect the four farm bill conference principals to take significant steps in bringing an agreed upon bill to the House and Senate floors this month. The conference committee is likely to meet for two to three days to negotiate the remaining issues of a nearly completed bill drafted by the principals and their staff over the December recess. Before adjourning for the holiday break, the principals said that they had made considerable progress on a five-year bill, including receiving workable Congressional Budget Office scores and coming close to reaching agreements on farm subsidies and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding.

Both the Senate and House leadership have signaled that floor consideration of the farm bill is a priority on their legislative agendas for January. In December, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) failed to bring to the floor a farm bill extension to create pressure to complete work on the farm bill as soon as possible. Sen. Reid had assurances from the Department of Agriculture that it could stave off the effects of the 1949 Act until early February. In the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released his 2014 legislative agenda on Friday, which included the budget and the farm bill as the top two priorities. Once brought to the floor, the House will likely schedule up and down votes for key provisions such as SNAP and farm subsidies.  Other amendments may receive separate votes.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
12.16.2013

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

The House approved by voice vote a farm bill extension through January 31, 2014. In response to the House’s actions, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated that the Senate will not take up a similar measure before leaving by the end of the week. Sen. Reid’s comments, however, are met with doubt from many agriculture stakeholders, especially after Senate Agriculture Committee leader Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) comments about the progress and next steps on the farm bill.  Therefore, we expect the Senate to pass a short-term extension, as the chamber would also want to avoid any political blame in having the 1949 law take effect, which would dramatically increase subsidy prices, including the price of milk to about $7.00 a gallon.

Although the farm bill conference did not release its draft agreement before the House adjourned last week until January 7, 2014, House and Senate agriculture committee leaders, including Sen. Stabenow, presented a united front in confirming that a framework would be released and a deal would be reached in January. This forecast looks more promising than in the past, especially after the Congressional Budget Office scores on submitted conference proposals were well-received by conference leaders.

There remain challenges ahead about getting a bill through both chambers, as conferees are putting together a package that likely includes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts ranging between $8 billion to $9 billion. This range is substantially below the House’s benchmark of $39 billion in cuts. Further, the conference must still reach an agreement on country-of-origin labeling and Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) adopted amendment in the House’s version of the farm bill, which would prevent states from denying the sale of products produced in another state.

To pass a conferenced farm bill through both chambers, Sen. Stabenow may push for the bill to be attached to the likely omnibus bill that Congress will need to pass by January 15. The agriculture leadership may also look to the success of the budget deal agreement and consider garnering bipartisan support, particularly from Democrats in the House.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
12.09.2013

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

This week, we expect the House to adjourn until 2014 without passing a conferenced farm bill, despite House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) expressing his willingness to have the chamber consider a conference report. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has indicated that the conference committee will most likely use the holiday recess to work on a proposal to be voted on in January. The proposal will be based on progress made thus far, as well as information from anticipated Congressional Budget Office scores and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Despite talks of progress over the past few months, many of the issues at the start of negotiations remain on the table, including a proposal that ties crop subsidy payments to base or planted acres, reform of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (i.e., able-bodied provisions), and changes to the country-of-origin labeling rules aimed at the meat industry. Although House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) has stated that the dairy issue of whether to adopt a program that couples a margin insurance program with supply management has been resolved, conferee Mike Conaway (R-TX) gave a conflicting report saying the issue remains on the table.

Before leaving at the end of the week, the conference committee may hold a public meeting to discuss some of these issues and explain the committee’s next steps in attempting to reach an agreement over the break. There is no expectation that the committee will announce that it has reached an agreement at the meeting.

With no agreement expected by the end of the week, each chamber will likely pass a short-term, one-month extension to buy time on reaching a long-term agreement in January. An extension will also avoid the kicking-in of high-subsidy prices through the 1949 law that could, for example, increase milk prices to almost $7.00 a gallon. Last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pushed for such a short-term extension.

2014 Elections

Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) announced that he would seek re-election next year, which allows him to keep his political chips in farm bill negotiations to the satisfaction of many farm and anti-hunger advocates. Sen. Cochran faces strong competition from tea-party backed candidate Chris McDaniel.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
11.25.2013

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

Last week, farm bill conferees left for the Thanksgiving break without releasing a draft agreement. Despite the break, it seems as if conversations among conferees will continue. Today, Senate and House agriculture leaders, both chairmen and ranking members, will likely discuss the farm bill via conference call, and conversations among conferees may occur next week, even as the Senate is scheduled to be out of session.

There are a few issues remaining on the negotiating table that may foreclose opportunities for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to push through a farm bill by the end of the year. The two titles garnering most of the conferees’ attention are title I (commodity programs) and title IV (nutrition programs, primarily the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)). Under title I, the issue of target prices remains controversial as some growers, including corn and soy growers, oppose adoption of the House’s bill that bases target prices on planted acres. These groups have now called for a long-term extension of the farm bill and their efforts have been supported by some Senators, including Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA) and Mike Johanns (NE).

Further, conferees are still discussing whether to adopt the House’s dairy provision that eliminates supply management under the Dairy Market Stabilization program. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), who represents dairy producers in his district, has signaled that there is much support for adopting the Senate’s dairy provision that couples margin insurance with supply management. As for title IV, there seems to be no clear indication that substantial progress has been on SNAP reform.

Outside of titles I and IV, conferees are still deciding how to address concerns with the Department of Agriculture’s country-of-origin labeling rules. Although some conferees would like to fully repeal the rules, this will not likely happen because many conferees are concerned with a World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge. Most conferees are looking to balance reforms that would avoid a WTO challenge while making the rules less stringent.

Given that Chairwoman Stabenow has pushed for the farm bill to be included in a larger congressional budget deal, not reaching an agreement before Thanksgiving break is a seeming blow to passing a farm bill by the end of this year. Another potential blow to Sen. Stabenow’s plans is the budget conference not meeting its December 13 deadline of reaching a budget deal to which she would like to attach the farm bill. Should the budget conference not reach a deal, which is expected, agriculture leadership would most likely be in a position to push for an extension of the farm bill. With the window closing on legislative days, concerns are growing that a standalone farm bill will have trouble passing both chambers and avoiding a White House veto.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.
11.18.2013

Agriculture and Food

Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

This past week, progress on the farm bill seemed to stall. Conferees are no longer close to finding a compromise on the issue of tying crop price guarantees to planted or base acres, and dairy provisions remain on the negotiation table. Earlier this month, the chairwoman had commented that she thought a farm bill is “doable” before the Thanksgiving break, but public comments by conferees about negotiation struggles suggest otherwise.

Farm Bill in a Budget Deal

The approach to finding a moving legislative vehicle to attach the farm bill to is becoming more complicated. Over the past few weeks, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has stated that a farm bill will definitely be included in a larger congressional budget deal despite opposition from House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN). It appears, though, that Rep. Peterson may have an unexpected supporter in his effort to push against the chairwoman’s efforts. Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) expressed publicly that he does not support the inclusion of any farm bill cost-savings in a congressional budget deal. Chairwoman Stabenow has yet to comment publicly on the speaker’s remarks.

Regulatory Activity

Food Safety Modernization Act Proposed Rules

Due to technical difficulties with the website www.regulations.gov, stakeholders now have until Friday, November 22 to submit comments on the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rules for produce safety and preventive controls for human food under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Department of Agriculture Departure

Last week, Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen announced that she will step down from her position in mid-December to pursue opportunities in the private sector, although she did not share further details on her future plans.

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Dana Weekes represents corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations on a range of legislative and administrative matters related to agriculture, energy, education and federal funding.